Lloyd Cushenberry has been in this position before.
He just assumed it would be another year before he’d be back here again.
The third-year sophomore once again begins spring practice as LSU’s No. 1 center. Last year he was filling in for veteran Will Clapp, who was out with a shoulder injury. Now the full-time job is his for the taking after Clapp declared early for the NFL Draft.
“I really didn’t expect it when he declared, but he called me when it happened and told me to step up and be a leader,” Cushenberry said. “I thought he was coming back. I was surprised, but I knew it was my time. I waited two years behind both him and (Ethan) Pocic, and now it’s my time to show up.”
Cushenberry was Clapp’s backup last season after redshirting as a true freshman. He appeared in 11 games in 2017, but he knows the starting job won’t be handed to him — and that holding it all spring doesn’t guarantee anything come the fall.
The Dutchtown native is already competing with mid-year enrollee Cole Smith at center. LSU coach Ed Orgeron has also raved about junior college transfer Damien Lewis, and with LSU already returning starting guards Garrett Brumfield and Ed Ingram, it’s conceivable one could slide into the middle.
“It means competition,” Orgeron said. “Garrett is our starter (at left guard) right now, but we’re going to have to find a place for (Lewis) to play. It may be somewhere else. It may be center. It may be right guard … From what I saw (in practice), he was one of the best players out there.”
Having to compete isn’t a concern for Cushenberry, who was one of the final pieces to LSU’s 2016 signing class.
“I expect it to be a competition,” Cushenberry said. “Competition is good for everybody because it makes you better. I’m the starter right now. We’ll see if I can keep it. So I expect a competition.”
Cushenberry nearly won the starting right guard spot in fall camp last season after Maea Teuhema’s abrupt departure from the program. LSU ultimately decided on a combination of Ingram and Saahdiq Charles in part because of Cushenberry’s value as a backup center.
Coaches in the past have raved about his football intelligence and work ethic. He sponged up as much knowledge as possibly during his spring as a starter and two years of backing up Pocic and Clapp, a pair of All-SEC centers.
“Will and Ethan, they taught me a lot my first two years,” Cushenberry said. “Especially last year. Everywhere Will went, I was right behind him. Main thing I picked up is being calm under pressure. When things don’t go as planner you’ve got to stay calm and still be the leader. You can’t fold.”
His main objective this spring is to show new LSU offensive line coach James Cregg that he has what it takes to be a vocal leader on the line. That was one of Clapp’s greatest strengths in helping keep an offensive line together despite injuries and two true freshmen starters.
Cregg and Cushenberry met for the first time when LSU returned from the Citrus Bowl. Cregg already had compiled all of the reserve’s game tape from the previous season.
“He is great. Very businesslike, NFL-style approach. I love it so far,” Cushenberry said. “He just loves talking football. He’s a good guy. We had a meeting and he went over good and bad film from last year. That’s all he does it watch film.”
It’ll ultimately be Cregg’s decision as to who plays where, and that film will go a long way toward making it, so Cushenberry knows this spring is his chance to prove that the best starting five is one that includes him in the middle.